If the question is how to run the most miles legally in the least amount of time, the answer is driver teams.
Recruiting good team players takes at least as much effort as what's needed to draw reliable single drivers and owner-operators.
Recruitment can't be undervalued, especially when a fleet expects two individuals to effectively share the tight confines of a truck cab day after day, trip after trip.
Given the importance of teams to its overall operation, it's not surprising how much attention Transportation Services Inc. (TSI) pays to their drivers' on-the-road comfort.
The carrier, headquartered in Detroit, operates its fleet of 190 company trucks and some 350 owner-operators out of Mesquite, Tex. Though seemingly disparate, together those locales reflect the fleet's role as a just-in-time transporter of automotive materials from Mexico to the U.S. and Canada.
While the fleet uses Mexican carriers to make pickups and deliveries south of the border, TSI vp Kenneth Pellegrino points out that a "significant portion" of its business is handled by driver teams who shuttle freight between supplier factories in Mexico and car assembly plants in the Midwest. About 70% of that freight must arrive per the just-in-time requirements of shippers.
"Hauling freight from Mexico - and using driver teams to do it - is our niche," says Pellegrino. He notes that at any given time, the fleet may have from 400 to 500 trailers circulating in Mexico. TSI fields 1,600 van and 200 flatbed trailers.
All that running between the three NAFTA countries adds up to an average length of haul of 1,400 miles. And that, according to Pellegrino, makes offering teams attractively spec'd trucks a necessity.
He reports the newest trucks running in the fleet are 80 Sterling ST9500 SilverStar tractors fitted with 77-in. high-roof sleepers.
Driver-comfort items Pellegrino specs include cab and rear air suspensions; Bostrom high-back air-suspended driver and passenger seats; premium AM/FM/cassette sound system; tilt/adjustable leather-wrapped steering wheel; storable table; TV/VCR package; high-level trim; and even a right-hand exit door from the sleeper.
The 232-in. wheelbase tractors are adequately powered by 12.7-liter Detroit Diesel Series 60 engines, rated 430 hp. with a 1,550 lb.-ft. torque rating, driven through Meritor RMX 10-155A 10-speed transmissions equipped with oil coolers. The trucks are also ordered with mounting brackets for the fleet's Qualcomm satellite-tracking and communications gear.
According to Rory Conley, president of Conley Transport, premium equipment is just one element he and his wife and business partner, Autumn, rely on to attract their favorite kind of drivers: husband-and-wife teams.
The Searcy, Ark.-based carrier was founded in 1983 with one truck that Rory operated. The couple now fields 65 company-owned trucks that crisscross the country.
The fleet primarily hauls produce and pharmaceuticals from the West Coast to the East Coast, including Boston and New York, and transports cosmetics, candy, and more pharmaceuticals the other way.
Keeping all those goods flowing is a driving force consisting of only husband-and-wife teams in all assigned tractors. The only "single" drivers on the roster are used as fill-ins or to handle short runs.
How did Conley get in so deep with husband-and-wife teams? It was no grand plan, according to Rory Conley, but a simple matter of going with what worked best as the fleet grew.
"Early on we found that husband-and-wife teams are among the best drivers," says Conley. "They're easy to work with, they keep the equipment clean, and they are often willing to stay out longer than other team drivers."
On that last point, he says he and Autumn try to be flexible. "Every team doesn't want the same thing. Some stay out for a week or two and others for two months."
That flexibility is just the head of the nail Conley strikes to drive home its recruitment message.
"We start by offering competitive wages, including a guarantee of 20,000 miles a month. If they don't run that much, we pay them up to that point anyway."
Benefits for Conley drivers include comprehensive healthcare coverage, a 401K plan with company-matching program, and vacation pay.
The icing on the cake that helps draw and keep driver teams is the carefully spec'd equipment Conley puts them in.
"Our latestW900s are equipped with 86-in. Studio AeroCab sleepers," Conley relates. "Specs reflect the demands that come from running a fleet and drivers' input."
Thanks to the fleet's high miles and a trade cycle of 36 to 48 months, the oldest truck now is a '97 model. Current tractor specs include Detroit Diesel Series 70 engines, rated 470 hp. and Eaton Fuller 10-speeds.
If nothing else, two startling facts point up how successful Conley's husband-and-wife focus is.
Number one, according to Conley, the fleet has never had to advertise for drivers. "They find us through word of mouth."
Number two, he reports that the fleet's driver-turnover rate now stands at a stupendous 28%.